Tories target UCU’s weakspot

Eric Pickles, the Tory government minister has attacked the University and College Union for its institutional antisemitism.

It is embarassing because he’s right.  The union does have a problem with institutional antisemitism.  Engage has been providing the evidence for this for years now.  Here for example.

Nobody in the union hates Jews; it isn’t that sort of antisemitism.  Institutional antisemitism is the result of sets of norms, practices and shared commonsense assumptions which create an environment within the union which is hostile to Jews, even if nobody intends to create such an environment.

That the atmosphere within the union isn’t experienced as being hostile by a small number of antizionist Jews does not tell us that it isn’t hostile to Jews in general.  The analogy is with pornographic pictures on the walls of a workplace.  It creates a hostile environment for women.  It isn’t an answer to produce a number of individual women who will swear that they like the pictures and they don’t feel that it creates a hostile environment.

It is embarassing because he’s right, it is embarassing because our union, which is normally hot on institutional racism when it is found in academic instutions, even when it is not intended, has failed to free itself from its own institutional racism.

It is embarassing becasue Pickles is a minister in a government which is doing serious, deep and widespread damage to further and higher education; our union is supposed to be defending education; Pickles has found our union’s weak spot and has begun to poke around in it.

It is embarassing because Pickles’ argument is a kind of warmed up re-hashing of the argument which has been put forward by UCU activists who care about our union and who want our union to be stronger, not weaker.

It is embarassing becasue Pickles has got some of his facts muddled up.  He bungles the Bongani Masuku story.  He is wrong to say that UCU has been boycotting Israeli academics.  He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

The issue of antisemitism is now seriously degrading our union’s ability to defend us, its members and to defend education in the UK against the current government.

The union needs to deal with its institutional antisemitism for two reasons.

1.  It is wrong, in itself, to tolerate a situation where Jews are intimidated and pushed out of their own union.

2. It is making us an easy target of the Tory government just at the moment when we need to be strong and united.

The boycott campaign is an antisemitic campaign – it wants our union to treat Israeli academics in a way which is different from all other academics who live in states which violate human rights norms.  It has imported antisemitic ways of thinking into our union.

Engage is a pro-union left-wing campaign.  The fight against antisemitism in our union is now, more than ever, a necessary part of the fight against the Tory cuts to education.

David Hirsh

5 Responses to “Tories target UCU’s weakspot”

  1. Blacklisted Dictator Says:

    “In 2009, the UCU invited a trade unionist (Bongani Masuku), who had called for Jews in his native South Africa to be stripped of their citizenship, to speak at a conference.” (Eric Pickles)

    Pickles should have said.. “some Jews in his native South Africa to be stripped of their citizenship” (ie the ones who support Israel).

    Masuku made it clear that he admires anti-zionist South African Jews like Ronnie Kasrils and Steven Friedman who are leading the BDS movement.

  2. Blacklisted Dictator Says:

    The world according to Bongani Masuku:

    “I have much in common with decent Jews who stand for justice, I love and honour their huge contribution to humanity and my own morality. In fact, all the people who deny that occupation is wrong must be encouraged to leave South Africa before they infect our society with much more racism. What kind of person refuse to acknowledge that Israeli is a murderous state for what it has done to Gaza, something is wrong with that person.”

  3. Bill Says:

    This has been my concern all along (though my version of paragraph 4 has a more Howard Stern flair). A hostile environment that self-selects (out) specific subgroups and is not just the union’s problem, it’s that of the host organization. If a employee (faculty member) posts the nudie pic, the union won’t get sued, the company (or university) will, and no one will buy it that it’s part of the normal job or passes “Reasonable Person” even if a gal posted the offending pinup. And the host employer likely has deeper pockets for the victims(s) than the union, and it has the lead responsibility to comply with non-harassment and non-discrimination polices under its roof. And as far as the union-as-negotiating-unit goes, there is less “motivation” to deal with one if they’re promoting such an environment or just sitting on its hands while its members openly promote it, putting the employer at risk. And if I were to be suddenly turned into a union-bashing political or administrative hack needing an excuse not to deal with the UCU, it’s what I’d do. Hunt should know better. The question is, will Pickles’s tactical maneuver be the kick in Hunt’s pants to get her moving on this and clean house, or will she continue to sit while the rug of credibility is pulled out from under her and her organization.

    (As for bungling Masuku’s stance on Jews that don’t read off his script, It’s only a small, and yes, embarrassing detail. The broader narrative still holds. His apologists can’t get around the fact that he thinks that Jews that don’t demonize Israel to his satisfaction should be sent out of SA and stripped of citizenship. That’s a unique condition on citizenship and effectively treats Jews as provisional citizens, or non-citizens, until they prostrate themselves before him, and presumably continue to toe his party line. If he were to apply that model to any other group, he’d likely never have gotten away with it.)

  4. The tipping point for UCU -David Hirsh « Engage – the anti-racist campaign against antisemitism Says:

    […] Now we have reached a tipping point.  The government has found UCU’s weak spot, its institutional racism, and it has begun targetti…. […]

  5. Anne Says:

    I left NATFHE (Now UCU) in 2002 / 2003, having attended conference that year and was shocked to see the way the SWP engineered Motions calling for all sorts of sanctions to be levied against Israel. I attended the steering committee meeting on behalf of our Region and watched in amazement as the paid officials were forced to find a way to composite the Motions so that they were more acceptable to people outside the union. It was the way that the left conspired together that shocked me most. Virtually every Region passed an almost identical Motion condemning Israel and the level of activity behind the scenes had to be seen to be believed. It was disgraceful, but I believe that the same scene was played out in other union conferences too.

    I did challenge the Motion when it was proposed in our Region, but I was confronted with the excluse that it was OK to say what you want to say about Israel because the Jews for Justice for Palestinians said the same thing. The same rhetoric was played out on the conference floor but just because some Jews say something doesn’t mean that they are right or that they cannot be racist. It only means that they identify more with the left than they do their religious and cultural heritage and they demonstrate that allegiance by condeming Israel.

    Whether or not they have a point, and whether or not it is right to condemn the politics in Israel is not the issue – although the left say it is.

    The point is that when you hear the left talk they often use ‘Israel’ interchangably with ‘the Jews’. Do the same with France and the French, or Asia and the Asians and you will quickly see that the way that their arguments are presented are clearly racist and by repeating it so often, it has permeated everyday talk in the media and in the living room so that it is now acceptable to condemn Jews in the way that no other nation or people are condemned for comparative actions.

    As for institutional racism, it is very difficult to be jewish and to be a member of UCU or any other union that has similar policies, unless you do agree with their anti-Israel rhetoric. Conference takes place on a Saturday, so an Orthodox Jew could not attend the debates about Israel and often union meetings are on a Saturday too.

    Seems to me that UCU should get back to what it is supposed to be doing, representing its members here in the UK and they certainly need protecting now! That is why most people join the union, they want protection, but the union’s policy has driven many Jewish people out (including me) and in doing so it has denied them representation should they require it. If that isn’t indirect discrimination, I don’t know what is! I feel sorry for Sally, I hope she will not be driven out by a coalition of the left who want to use the union as a way of furthering their own political aims that have absolutely nothing to do with education.


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